Voices

A blog from the Bruderhof

Guest Post: All of This Is Part of Me

September 26, 2019 by

Leaving the Bruderhof was not easy for me: after an adolescent crisis precipitated my going, I found myself attending college in western New York, far from the Bruderhof community in Ulster County where my family lived. Looking back, I realize how protected I was during those college years in the 1960s – I know that the prayers of my parents and others had a lot to do with that – when I put faith on the back burner and adjusted to living in a whole new world. I had “asked Jesus into my heart” in a little public one-room schoolhouse in north Georgia. That childlike faith had grown and deepened during my childhood at the Bruderhof. Then after graduation and during my first year of teaching, I found Jesus again – though of course, he had never left me.

I sat next to David at our first teachers’ meeting that year. I had no choice; it was the only seat left! He was a newly born-again believer, bursting with the Good News. Getting to know him meant facing up to my lack of, and need for, faith. Encountering his ardent convictions and attending meetings and Bible studies with him led me back to the faith of my childhood, which led me to the need to ask for forgiveness, and to forgive hurts and confusions of the past. This, in turn, freed me to love David.

The forty-eight years of marriage that followed have led David and me through joys and sorrows and deep waters; times of stretching, and times of respite, as we raised our family, taught elementary school, and sought to follow Jesus in our small corner of northeastern New York. And, consequently, I also learned to appreciate the challenge of the Bruderhof.

My childhood was rich right from the beginnings, at an interfaith cooperative called Macedonia, where we children got to test run products for Community Playthings, and where we ran wild and mostly barefoot over the hills and along the creeks and rhododendron thickets of the Blue Ridge Mountains of northeastern Georgia. Our move from that small intentional community to the Bruderhof added additional layers of richness. The lilacs at Woodcrest were a revelation to me that first northern spring, when our fourth grade class wrote poetry in the tree outside our classroom window. Thank you, Sharon, for nourishing the love for poetry instilled by our parents. Marlys Swinger continued the piano lessons I had begun in Georgia. In seventh grade, Jane Clement took us out to the marshes to catalog the changing wildlife. My dad, who taught sixth grade that year, helped us to survey the lake at our doorstep and told us what it was like to go to prison as a conscientious objector.

black and white photograph of teacher with two studentsAuthor (right) with teacher Jane Clement, 1960.

Our growing-up years are such an integral part of us. How can we determine what influenced us most? My mom’s childhood on a small dairy farm; my dad’s life in India; their search for a loving communal witness against war; their involvement in the civil rights movement, in the anti-war movement of the late 60s, and in the Bruderhof; folk-singing in coffee shops; the joy of discovering more literature. All of these are part of who I am.

All these experiences and this richness have affected my mothering and my teaching. I’ve used Community Playthings blocks in every aspect of the curriculum. Children’s songbooks published by the Bruderhof – Sing Through the Day,Sing Through the Seasons and In and Out the Windows – have been my resources. Leading young children outside and helping them to love the natural world around them has been my joy. My goal for my kindergarteners was to help them to love to learn! So of course, I became a play advocate, helping parents to catch the delight of playful learning.

four children fishingAuthor (right) with three younger siblings, 1960.

Love for poetry has echoed down the years. Our home reverberated with it. My father wrote his own poems and songs, and my mother had a poem for most occasions. Until her death, she sent me poems she had discovered. Some found their way into our church newsletter, as have some of Jane’s. The beauty Mom brought into our home has found a place in ours as well, and now I delight to see the love for beauty reflected in the homes of our children.

How has my Bruderhof childhood affected my life? In a desire to serve the Lord and to share what I know and who I am through poetry, music, and hospitality. Also in my life as wife, mother, teacher, and member of our church and community. So really – in every way!


Rae Whitehead lives with her husband, David, in Ballston Spa, NY.

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  • Thanks Rae for your blog. I was part of the class that did the surveying of the lake and it is very memorable for me. Your father was my favorite teacher! He brought us the wider world and we loved it. It affected our lives in a very positive way. all the best to you and your family. Ida

    Ida Neal